Review: ‘Last Flag Flying’ (2017)

As time goes on, Richard Linklater feels more and more like an indie Ridley Scott to me. Both are filmmakers who work regularly and both are filmmakers who I find to be consistently inconsistent in terms of quality. Their work is always worth seeking out and their films are generally interesting pieces of work, even if they sometimes end up being forgettable. As a result, both directors continue to fascinate me.

2016 saw Linklater deliver one of his best efforts to date in the form of Everybody Wants Some!!. Very much a “hang out” movie in the mold of its companion film, Dazed & Confused. It was a delightful slice of life piece of cinema and one that I have revisited a few times since. This past year saw Linklater make another companion film, although this time it was one meant to compliment someone else’s prior work, instead of his own.

Character names aside, Last Flag Flying is a sequel to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail. Screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan is the author of both novels and the former was very much written as an official follow-up to the latter. For whatever reason, it was decided not to make Last Flag Flying an actual sequel to the Ashby film, although it might as well be. The characterizations of the three main characters are incredibly similar, as are their backstories.

Whereas The Last Detail saw two Naval officers (Jack Nicholson & Otis Young) delivering a young seaman (Randy Quaid) to military prison, this tale takes a decidedly different and more introspective path. Larry Shepherd (Steve Carell) has had a good life after being released from prison. He has a good job and he managed to raise a family, although his wife has since passed away. Upon receiving word that his son was killed in action in Iraq, he sets out to reunite with friends Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) so that the three of them can escort his son’s body from Washington D.C. to New England. What follows is the story of three men reconnecting after decades apart and finding themselves again in the process.

Does that sound appealing to you? It sure as hell did to me, especially with the talent involved. It unfortunately fell short of my expectations. Linklater’s direction is very laid back, resulting in a rather by-the-numbers look and feel to a drama of this sort. His script with Ponicsan follows suit, delivering up nothing too remarkable. Try as they might, they are no Robert Towne. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Carell, Cranston, and Fishburne are so good together that I didn’t mind how unremarkable the rest of it was.

It’s no The Last Detail and it’s not one of Linklater’s better efforts, but it’s impossible for me to be upset when I get to hang out with these characters for 2 hours.

Last Flag Flying is a drama based upon the novel by Darryl Ponicsan. It is directed by Richard Linklater, from a screenplay by Darryl Ponicsan and Richard Linklater. The film is produced by Ginger Sledge and John Sloss. It stars Steven Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vazquez, Deanna Reed-Foster, and Cicely Tyson.

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